KJVOism and Circular Reasoning in a Small Circle

by Aug 22, 2013KJV, Theology4 comments

This thought occurred to me the other day: the KJV-Only use of Psalm 12:6–7 is circular reasoning.

Some people will hear that as the ultimate put-down. If someone can successfully prove that another person is guilty of assuming his conclusion in all the reasons he takes to get there (that’s what circular reasoning is), that person is considered to be wrong by definition.

“How do you know that evolution is true?”

“Because I have evolved to a greater state of logical consciousness than you have.”

“But that’s circular reasoning!”

Game, set, match.

Not so fast. Everybody uses circular reasoning. Everybody has baseline presuppositions that can’t be proven without forming a new baseline. You have to stop somewhere. Your reasoning has to be founded on something. It can’t be turtles all the way down.

“I believe the Bible because it is God’s Word” is a form of circular reasoning. No outside criterion of truth can ultimately and finally “prove” that the Bible is God’s word (or that God exists), lest it become more authoritative than God’s word.

But I’m not arguing for a fideism that eschews all reasoning. I really like John Frame’s idea that circular reasoning comes in different size circles. Within the circle created by that reasoning about God’s word you can place a lot of evidence: the Bible claims over and over in various ways that it is God’s means of speaking to us. The things the Bible said will happen have happened. Within the circle created by saying “I know God exists because He can’t not exist,” you can place a lot of (scripturally justified) evidence: nature, the moral law.

So back to the KJVOs and Psalm 12. My post on Sam Gipp from a few months ago noted that Gipp, an arch-KJVO, argued that the following verses guarantee perfect preservation of Greek and Hebrew biblical manuscripts down to the present day:

The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever. (Psalm 12:6–7 KJV)

Sam Gipp’s use of Psalm 12 is circular reasoning because he assumes that the King James is the only standard needed to justify his interpretation—which in turn buttresses his view that the King James is the only standard, period.

But this is a great example of circular reasoning in a small circle. He needs to enlarge the circle to include evidence from Hebrew. If he does, he runs into insoluble problems which I have already detailed.

So my defense of circular reasoning is not a defense of all circular reasoning. The only reasoning which is allowed to be circular is that reasoning found at the base of your worldview. As Frame says,

Circular argument of a kind is unavoidable when we argue for an ultimate standard of truth. One who believes that human reason is the ultimate standard can argue that view only by appealing to reason. One who believes that the Bible is the ultimate standard can argue only by appealing to the Bible. Since all positions partake equally of circularity at this level, it cannot be a point of criticism against any of them.

It’s right after saying this that Frame introduces his idea of the “big circle”:

Narrowly circular arguments, like “the Bible is God’s Word, because it is God’s Word” can hardly be persuasive. But more broadly circular arguments can be. An example of a more broadly circular argument might be “The Bible is God’s Word, because it makes the following claims…, makes the following predictions that have been fulfilled…, presents these credible accounts of miracles…, is supported by these archaeological discoveries…, etc.” Now this argument is as circular as the last if, in the final analysis, the criteria for evaluating its claims, its predictions, its accounts of miracles, and the data of archaeology are criteria based on a biblical worldview and epistemology. But it is a broader argument in the sense that it presents more data to the non-Christian and challenges him to consider it seriously.

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  1. Duncan Johnson

    This post really interested me. I had not heard of Frame’s concept of the big circle before. It made me wonder about our apologetics in general. Do we gain some sort of apologetical advantage by admitting that our “proofs” of God’s existence, etc are based on somewhat circular reasoning, and then immediately contending that everybody uses circular arguments to some extent?

    I just wasn’t sure if the net effect of that is any better than more “standard” presuppositional approaches that just challenge people to admit that worldviews are ultimately founded on the criterion of faith-in-something.

    Anyway, I pulled up the article on “Circular reasoning” in wikipedia and found this fascinating paragraph:

    > “Joel Feinberg and Russ Shafer-Landau note that “using the scientific method to judge the scientific method is circular reasoning”. Scientists attempt to discover the laws of nature and to predict what will happen in the future, based on those laws. However, per David Hume’s problem of induction, science cannot be proven inductively by empirical evidence, and thus science cannot be proven scientifically. An appeal to a principle of the uniformity of nature would be required to deductively necessitate the continued accuracy of predictions based on laws that have only succeeded in generalizing past observations. But as Bertrand Russell observed, “The method of ‘postulating’ what we want has many advantages; they are the same as the advantages of theft over honest toil”.”

    With these sorts of things being said, I wonder if circular reasoning is basically only considered a logical fallacy when used with a small circle argument.

  2. mlward

    I love that Russell quote. I think that Frame would say that circular reasoning is fallacious when used at some other point than the ultimate one in your worldview.

  3. Seth

    ” ‘I believe the Bible because it is God’s Word” is a form of circular reasoning. No outside criterion of truth can ultimately and finally “prove” that the Bible is God’s word (or that God exists), lest it become more authoritative than God’s word.” ‘
    That makes no sense. It seems that you’re saying there is no way the Bible is the Word of God. What in the world are you using, then? Or, maybe, you are referring to Gipp’s focus on the KJB is the preserved Word of God? If you were, then you make sense, because that’s Gipp’s argument.
    In John Ankerberg’s show (from what I am guessing you are getting Gipp’s argument) it seemed to me that Dan Wallace absolutely tore Gipp to pieces with the counterarguments that were presented. Gipp looked defenseless, and even Gipp’s book “Gipp’s Understandable History of the Bible” seems to be full of opinionated thoughts and rantings. There are some nuggets of good information, but they are hidden.
    Perhaps I didn’t quite understand your thought on that small paragraph, but that’s what I saw, so I thought I should make note of it.

    • Mark Ward

      Seth, I’m probably assuming a bit too much background in presuppositional epistemology here, but the basic idea is something that not only Christians recognize: everyone has to have some sort of ultimate standard by which to judge truth. That standard can’t be justified by anything else, or that other thing becomes the ultimate standard. Everyone’s reasoning is circuluar at that ultimate point. I recommend reading Frame’s intro to presuppostionalism here.